Withstanding with Gentleness

I have heard and read Christians make some very harsh, mean, and cruel statements as they strive to defend the truth against error. Sadly, in the heat of a discussion even we Christians can get downright nasty with each other if we’re not careful. We can forget that God told us to restore others with gentleness (Galatians 6:1). We can forget that the servant of God is not to be quarrelsome but rather correct our opponents with gentleness (II Timothy 2:23-25). We can forget that we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Instead we seem to think we can speak hatefully, cruelly, spitefully, condescendingly, and mockingly but we are still being gentle and loving because our words were the truth. That is just not so. If we are directed to speak the truth in love, that means it is possible to speak truth but not do so in a loving way.

Please do not misunderstand me. I’m not saying sin must not be rebuked. I’m also not saying there is never a place for sternness and firmness. I am saying that no matter what the situation, we are to be gentle and loving.

However, when some are accused of violating these principles, they will often turn to Galatians 2:11-14. “See, Paul withstood Peter to his face. I can do the same.” Yes, Paul withstood Peter to his face, but does this mean Paul was harsh or cruel? Does this mean Paul yelled at Peter, belittled him, called him names, and held his error against him for the rest of his life? It doesn’t mean any of those things and it doesn’t justify any of those things.

Regrettably, I fear we may read our own emotions and actions into Galatians 2:11. The text says Paul withstood or opposed Peter to his face. Too many of us picture this as Paul getting up in Peter’s face with finger wagging and voice raised. We read anger, wrath, and vehemence into this passage. That is what we read into it. It is not what is there. The word translated “withstood” or “opposed” means “resisted.” It doesn’t mean that he yelled. It doesn’t mean he got up in Peter’s face. It simply means he stood against Peter. He didn’t go along with Peter but resisted Peter’s actions. He did that to Peter’s face, not behind his back. He didn’t hide his opposition to Peter. Being opposed to someone or something doesn’t mean being cruel to them.

Further, take a look at how Paul actually withstood or opposed Peter. Did he say, “What’s wrong with you, Peter, you stinking hypocrite?” Did he make all kinds of accusations or call Peter names? Did he even chastise Peter for not holding the proper standard? Actually, he asked Peter a question. He prompted and provoked Peter’s thinking. He asked, “If you though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14).

But what about the fact that he did it in front of everyone? Doesn’t that show his intent to embarrass and shame Peter publicly? Actually not. In front of whom did Paul demonstrate his opposition? In front of those who were going along with Peter’s error. Paul was addressing the “ringleader” in front of those who were following him. He wasn’t blasting Peter in front of everyone; he was correcting a group by speaking to their leader in their presence.

What does this passage actually authorize about our conduct? It does authorize opposing error. It does authorize opposing error publicly. It does authorize rebuking sin. However, it does not authorize calling people names, shaming them, being mean to them, cruelly treating them, mocking them, abusing them, belittling them, berating them no matter how wrong they are. We must withstand, oppose, resist error and wrong practices, but we must do so with gentleness and love.

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Peter’s Objective Faith in Jesus

Peter provides a great example of faith in Luke 5:4-7. Jesus had been teaching from Peter’s boat. When finished, He said to Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

Before going any further, let’s consider this. Peter is a fisherman, Jesus is a carpenter turned itinerant rabbi. Sure, He’s a very good teacher, but Peter is the fisherman. Peter knows when it is the best time to catch fish and if it were the best time, he would have been out fishing instead of washing his nets when Jesus arrived on the shore. On top of all that, Peter had been fishing all night and caught no fish.

Picture this. You are the experienced fisherman. You fished all night, the best time to catch the fish. You caught nothing. You’re tired, ready for bed. You’re disgruntled and you’re hungry. Now some guy who hasn’t fished a day in his life says, “Go out and try again.” What do you say? “You’re crazy. I’m going home and going to bed. Maybe we’ll have better luck tonight.”

But that isn’t what Peter said. Peter said, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

Why on earth did Peter do that? Because he had an objective faith in Jesus.

Many people have a subjective faith. That is, their faith is subject to their own experiences. Peter could have relied on his own experience. He could have pointed out how ridiculous the idea of going to the same area they had fished all night and letting out the newly cleaned nets really would be. But he didn’t; he relied on Jesus.

A subjective faith says I’ll believe something as long as it fits in with what I have seen, felt, heard, experienced. It says I’ll only believe what Jesus, God, or the Bible said if I can prove by my experience that it is possible or find some proof that fits with what I’m willing to believe based on my experience. This is a subjective faith. That is, it is subject to how I feel about it. If something doesn’t fit with what I am willing to believe, I just won’t accept it.

Peter didn’t have a subjective faith. His faith in Jesus was not subject to his own experiences. Something about Jesus caused Peter to put faith in Him despite his own experiences. Therefore, despite his own experiences, feelings, thoughts, background he lowered the nets. His objective faith proved right. The nets were laden with fish.

Here is the point. Peter decided that Jesus was greater than His own experiences. Peter decided that Jesus was greater than what he had seen and felt before. Peter had decided Jesus was not limited by his own experiences and ability to test. Peter’s faith was placed objectively in Jesus and so He just accepted what Jesus said.

We need to have this kind of objective faith. Jesus is going to say some things that seem odd to us. He is going to say some things that may not mesh with our experiences. He is going to say some things that we cannot scientifically test. The question is will we recognize that He is greater than us? Will we recognize that we can place our faith in Him and not in ourselves? Will we just trust Him and do what He says? Will we simply accept what He teaches? Or will we put Him to the test saying we will only believe Him if we can prove what He says through our own experiences?

Did Peter have doubts? I think it is clear he did. He expressed the doubts. He was shocked when the fish came. However, despite his doubts, he placed his faith in Jesus and just accepted what He said.

Can we do the same?

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